The Andamans, under global spotlight after the killing of an American national by members of a highly protected tribe there, has emerged as one of the most sought-after tourist destinations in the country receiving on an average four lakh tourists, including several thousand foreigners, annually.
According to data available with the Union Home Ministry, more than 16 lakh tourists have visited the Andaman and Nicobar Islands since 2015 till October to see the natural beauty, beaches, flora and fauna and historically-significant landmarks in around 38 inhabited islands out of the 572 islets.
The archipelago has received 4,02,393 tourists, including 11,818 foreigners, this year till October while it received 4,87,229 tourists, including 15,310 foreigners in 2017.
In 2016, as many as 4,00,019 tourists, including 15,467 foreigners, had visited the Andamans and in 2015, a total of 3,11,358 tourists, including 14,674 foreigners, had gone to the union territory, the data said.
Andaman and Nicobar Islands is a union territory and comes under the administrative control of the home ministry.
The Andamans is in news in the wake of killing of John Allen Chau, 27, by members of the reclusive Sentinelese tribe in North Sentinel Island last week.
The archipelago has been inhabited for several thousand years, at the very least. The earlier archaeological evidence yet documented goes back some 2,200 years; however, the indications from genetic, cultural and linguistic isolation studies point to habitation going back 30,000 – 60,000 years, well into the Middle Palaeolithic, according to the Andaman and Nicobar Islands tourism department.
In the Andaman Islands, the various Andamanese people maintained their separated existence through diversifying into distinct linguistic, cultural and territorial groups.
In 1850s, the indigenous people of Andamans first came into contact with the outside world. The local people are: Great Andamanese, who collectively represented at least 10 distinct sub groups and languages, including the Jarawa: the jungle (or Rutland Jarawa); the Onge; and the Sentinelese (the most isolated of all the groups). The indigenous peoples of the Nicobars (unrelated to the Andamanese) have a similarly isolated and lengthy association with the islands.
There are two main groups: the Nicobarese, or Nicobari living throughout many of the islands; and the Shompen, restricted to the interior of Great Nicobar.
The Andamans, located in the east of the Indian mainland geographically, float in splendid isolation in the Bay of Bengal. Once a hill range extending from Myanmar to Indonesia, these picturesque undulating islands, islets numbering around 572, are covered with dense rain-fed, damp and evergreen forests and endless varieties of exotic flora and fauna.
Most of these islands (about 550) are in the Andaman Group, 28 of which are inhabited. The smaller Nicobars, comprise some 22 main islands (10 inhabited). The Andaman and Nicobars are separated by the Ten Degree Channel which is 150 km wide.
These islands also boast of India's freedom struggle days' historically significant landmarks -- Cellular Jail, Ross Island, Viper Island, Hopetown and Mount Harriet.
The Andaman and Nicobar Islands have been declared as two of the 218 endemic bird areas of the world.
As many as 270 species and sub-species of birds have been reported to exist in these islands, 106 of them being endemic. The Andaman Wood Pigeon, Andaman Padauk and Dugong are declared as State Bird, State Tree and State Animal respectively.
There are about 96 wildlife sanctuaries, nine national parks and one biosphere reserve in the islands. These islands are blessed with the bounties of both south-west and north-east monsoons.
The North Sentinel Island, where the American was killed, is one of 29 islands in Andamans where till June foreigners had to take special permission -- the Restricted Area Permit (RAP) -- before being allowed to visit them.
Even though one filter (RAP) was withdrawn, any tourist is required to take permission from the forest department and the administration of the island as it is protected under two other acts -- protection of aboriginal people and forest acts, a home ministry official said.